Particularly with this book Maugham proves to be an exceptional analyser of the human soul. I think everyone has had one of Philip's thoughts in mind at least once in a lifetime and it is almost impossible not to feel an emotional involvement in his affairs. I had to leave the book for three days in a point that I considered dramatic.
It's no wonder that "on human bondage" and "The razor's edge" are regarded as the best of Maugham's production.
Bildungsroman if ever there was one, Of Human Bondage is a classic nineteenth century novel written while the world was on the verge of embarking upon a world war which would sweep away that 'world of yesterday' and make perhaps this book seem prematurely dated.
And yet I was perplexed to find that, after spending the first 200 pages good-humoredly sneering at the conventionality of its structure, at its old-fashioned humour and traditional characterisation, I became so completely absorbed by its plot, fascinated by its range of characters, even swept away by its sheer melodrama. I loved this book, because I felt that despite the melodrama, or perhaps within it, there was the world, there was reality, and that the author was really managing to get close to some crucial questions about life and its meaning, and how we decide to devote it, and whether our actions really make any difference, or matter at all.
I loved the way the plot complemented, determined, led the search for meaning, the philosophical speculations of the protagonist. I loved the variety and the complexity of the characters, their being half immersed in the darkness of selfishness while striving to be good, or to achieve their goal, to be happy, or just to get by. I loved the openness of interpretation that it leaves - the protagonist is often self-destructive in his behaviour, but no judgement is passed on his decisions. It all becomes part of the pattern of life that he is weaving, and it wouldn't be possible for anyone else to judge.
I do however have some misgivings about, for example, the female characters portrayed, and I am not sure whether there might not be an appallingly sexist message at the heart of this novel - after all, the protagonist finds his happiness with the healthy, uneducated girl that is so good at looking after the house and at acting as mother and sister, more than at discussing things. But I am also wary of the excesses of a certain type of paranoid feminist criticism which sees oppressive and sexist ways of thinking in pretty much anything that was ever written by a man - Philip may settle down and find a balance with Sally at the end of the novel, but whether this is a happy ending is a matter of discussion: he is not in love with her, and in his heart he wonders whether the painful memory of Mildred might actually never leave him. Also, by settling down he is giving up all his youthful dreams about travelling to the ends of the earth and living life to the full. But again, and coherently with the spirit of the book, one feels that there is no right or wrong choice for Philip here - and that he is the only person able to tell what values are most important for him, and act accordingly. Which is also what each one of us is busy enough trying to find out about themselves.
This book was the first book that made a truly strong impression on me. I was about 16 when I read it, and it stayed as my "best book ever" for years.
An interesting quote from the book, to all bookworms ;-)
"...he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading: he did not know that thus he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of everyday a source of bitter disapointment."
This is really a very well written book. The story is basically the one of the author, whom was grown up in strict Christian upbringing, and how he searched for freedom....Continua